Appreciating America’s Most Underrated Athlete

Photo Credit: Joshua Dahl-USA TODAY Sports

Last Saturday, a 125-pound man pulled off a mid-air suplex and armbar combination to break the record for most consecutive UFC title defenses.

The ridiculous submission was one of the best finishes in MMA history, cementing Demetrious Johnson’s status as the promotion’s best pound-for-pound fighter:

Nobody was really surprised by the result. Johnson out-struck Ray Borg 172 to 22 en route to his 13th straight win. Ironically, Johnson’s fight wasn’t even the main event, which was given to an interim lightweight championship bout instead.

The UFC’s best fighter isn’t even its biggest star.

“Mighty Mouse” has somehow flown under the radar despite his long-term success. He’s 27-2-1 and the only person to ever hold the Flyweight championship belt, which he won on September 22nd of 2012. He’s kept that belt for 1,845 days and will pass Jose Aldo next week to become the third-longest title holder in the promotion’s history.

Johnson is at or near the top in a number of statistics and records.

For starters, his 86.6 win percentage is sixth-highest all-time among fighters with 10 or more bouts.

He’s got the third-most finishes in title fights (6), the fourth-most takedowns in UFC history (64), and the fourth-most significant strikes landed in title bouts (812). He holds the record for latest finish in UFC history, when he submitted a guy with one second remaining on the clock during his 8th title defense. That means he’s still stalking his opponent when the other guy is totally gassed.

There’s also this:

Johnson isn’t flashy. He’s not excessively brash like Conor McGregor or mouthy like Michael Bisping. He doesn’t talk about making money or knocking guys out, but he’ll respond when provoked:

“I’m not in the business of taking hits and concussions. That shit is overrated. I’m here to make a fool of you, throw you like a bag of potatoes and break your arm.”

One of the reasons Johnson doesn’t get as much love as he should is because he fights at 125. The Flyweight division hasn’t provided much competition over the years and there aren’t many interesting storylines outside of what Johnson just accomplished. There’s no juicy rivalry. His behavior doesn’t polarize. He just fights and wins, which is simultaneously admirable and boring for a sport that thrives on hype.

Flyweight is also the UFC’s lowest men’s weight class, so any outsiders looking to challenge DJ for the belt would have to shed pounds. The only other option is for Johnson to go up to 135 and fight at Bantamweight again, which he did before the 125 division was created.

T.J. Dillashaw is fighting Cody Garbrandt for the 135 title next month and Dominick Cruz beat Johnson at 135 six years ago, so I’m not exactly sure where Johnson fits. He could surely solidify his status as the greatest of all time if he defeated one of those three. He’s expressed interest in taking one of these “super fights” if the payday and the circumstances are right, but maybe he’d rather continue to dominate 125 and add to this list:

No one knows what Johnson wants to do next.

Whatever the case, it’s a remarkable run for a 31-year-old guy who didn’t even start fighting until he was 21. He was raised by a deaf mother and dealt with an abusive step father, then went on to become a standout wrestler and world champion mixed-martial artist. It’s not dissimilar from the story of Eddie Alvarez, who grew up right here on the streets of Kensington and later found MMA success. Eddie’s story found some traction in a town that has historically loved the “four major North American sports” while relegating everything else to niche status.

So I don’t know how much Philly enjoys combat sports, but I know this town appreciates a winner, and nobody wins like Demetrious Johnson.


14 Responses

  1. Awesome idea to put some MMA articles on the site. Please continue to write them.

    Anyway, that suplex transitioned into an armbar by Mighty Mouse legitimately looked like a WWE move. I was waiting to hear Jim Ross’ voice say “oh my gawd he killed him!!!”.

  2. Also Cody No Love is gonna destroy T.J and then would make a bigger joke out of Mighty Mouse then he made out of Dominic Cruz a few months back. But the money fight is def Cody Garbrandt vs Demetrius Johnson. They might even let Mighty Mouse headline a PPV for once if that fight happens.

    1. Think you’re right. Wonder how healthy Garbrandt is at this point. Really interested to see how he fights next month.

  3. I don’t really watch UFC, but I remember seeing this guy (because of his nickname) right after he won his title. He made the contender look like a speed bag and I thought whoa, that guy is fast as shit.” Not surprised to see he’s still around.

  4. I heard that the UFC is just a fad and that ESports are the real future of competition.

  5. Nice to see a combat sports article. I’d love to see Mighty Mouse vs Garbrandt. If you’re a big fan, there’s a pretty decent stable of fighters that are up and coming on the smaller CFFC promotion. There’s also a grappling promotion called Fight 2 Win selling out the 2300 Arena every couple months that highlight local competitions.

  6. So happy to finally read about UFC on this site.
    What has taken so long to cover UFC?
    Please keep it up.
    DJ is the man. All business – no games.

  7. How did you convince Kyle to allow a combat sports post? I’m sure he thinks it’s too rough / masculine.
    Good stuff heavy Kevy. Need more of this.

  8. The two people that beat him are obviously better pound 4 pound…

    He’s not even the best of who he fought

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